Whether you view developers and publishers as evil multi-national corporations, or just guys wanting to make a living, when something original comes around they should be applauded; both the teams behind the code and the men with the money willing to finance the game in the hope that the public will buy the finished product. Recently EA are on a bit of a roll with brand new IPs, and although Dead Space was brilliant, it relied on a tried and tested formula despite pushing the survival horror genre to new levels – Mirror’s Edge, however, is utterly new and all the more striking for it, and we’ve not seen something this dazzlingly original since the glory days of the Amiga.
Firstly, despite the first-person viewpoint and the option to carry (and shoot) a gun, this isn’t a first person shooter. Play it like one and you’re not only missing the point but you’ll probably never get past the first level. Secondly, despite the jumping and vertigo-inducing heights this isn’t a platformer either: there are no double-jumps, no Goombas and no dragging bits of cardboard around to make ramps. In fact, Mirror’s Edge doesn’t yet have a pigeon-hole because it pitches elements from all of the above and wraps them up in something completely new, all dressed in a startling primary range of colours set against a bleached white sky. There’s nothing except the route in front of you and the occasional glimpse of your character’s arms and legs. It doesn’t even have a HUD.
What it does have is an instantly likeable main avatar: Faith, complete with a sketchy background and a rag-tag group of friends. The story is played out via animated cut-scenes and real-time game engine cutscenes, and although DICE have attempted to work a story in there, it’s clearly an afterthought and is almost entirely superfluous anyway to the action, which you’re thrown in almost immediately after a short tutorial. It’s important to spend time with the tutorial, because although most of us are familiar with the usual look-move FPS control set, the addition of jumping and crouching as a core game mechanic is entirely new. Faith can scale ladders, vault fences, scramble up walls and leap from vertical pipe to metal ledge all using L1, and can crouch, tuck and roll with L2. These two buttons will form the combos as your experience with level grows, and apart from the attack button (R2) are really all you need to remember.
The basic premise of each section of the story (and thus the subsequence chance to replay via the Time Trial mode) is to get from one part of the map to another, alive and as quickly as possible. This is achieved by the Parkour-like movements described in the paragraph above, and topped with balancing on beams and wall-running. The most obvious path is often highlighted with a bright red dye, be that a springboard or a ladder, but is rarely the quickest and most direct route, which is where the Time Trial mode comes in to play. For example, the tutorial level can be beaten in just under 2 minutes on perhaps your second play through, but for the full 3-star rating you’ll need to beat it under 60 seconds, which will require serious skill and a keen eye.
Mirror’s Edge demands more from the player than most similar games because objects in the environment that would normally be unsurmountable barriers become a starting point for a series of scrambles, leaps and vaults not possible in any other game. Can’t find a way up a wall? Chances are you’ll need to run horizontally over a large gap, fling yourself onto a ladder, reverse flip and grab hold of something previously out of sight, and this is often done against a background of Blue gunfire and an omnipresent threat from a helicopter, the reason for the presence of both outlined in the story cut-scenes. This, coupled with some throbbing background music creates a real sense of tension and urgency, and the notion that if you stop you’ll be cut to pieces with bullets means that you’ll always need to find the quickest route out.
There are other elements, too – it’s not just running and jumping. Faith is handy enough with a pistol to make some sections easier to shoot through than avoid, and her hand-to-hand moveset includes the option to disarm the enemy if timed correctly; attacks can be combined with the jump and crouch button too to create flying kicks and sweeps. There’s also an ‘interact’ button (for lifts) and a slow motion button (for wimps). When done correctly, and with a bit of practice, speed runs can look supremely impressive, and it’s in the game’s suplementary Time Trial mode that the game really comes into it’s own, with online leaderboards and Trophies designed to get the most of the game’s otherwise limited replayability.
With a fairly short story mode (you’ll get through it in around six hours) the decision on whether to pick up the game will lie with how you feel about the game’s core mechanics and whether you’re prepared to spend hours searching for the perfect route to be crowned the king of the leaderboards. Sure, it’s not the longest game every released but there’s no filler either – each and every second of the story mode is packed with action, from leaping massive building-wide jumps to sprinting through police-infested office blocks. There’s not a single part of the game we didn’t enjoy replaying, it’s a visual tour-de-force (albeit a rather minimal, Designers Republic style affair) and the music is to die for (and has it’s own player in the options). Could have done with a co-op mode, perhaps, but the promised DLC will surely keep us going for some time.
A complete surprise, then. Try the demo on the PSN Store, at least, and then hopefully we’ll see you on the leaderboards.